Friday, November 29, 2013

A Reluctant Review

I just finished reading my third Kate Morton novel and, to be quite honest, I'm not quite sure what to say about it - or how to say it best...? This is a reluctant review because it feels strange to not want to overly praise a Morton novel. I've loved her two novels before this one and, given this was her debut novel, I guess I should have expected it might fall a little short of the glory of the other two she wrote at a later date. We should all improve as we go, yes?

Still, I hesitate to give my opinion which may be...a little skewed. Tell you what, I'll state what I think - plain and simple - and tell you why I fear my perspective may be a little off. You'll have all the facts and can decide for yourself. The House at Riverton, also known as The Shifting Fog, by Kate Morton is a good novel. There's no doubt about that. Is it a great novel? Well,...let me tell you my problem...

I felt a bit impatient (and a little bored) with the first half of the novel and thought it dragged a bit. I believe it's because I'm a fan of the "Downton Abbey" series. You see, so much of what I read was similar to scenes I've seen played out on "Downton Abbey," I found reading the novel a bit tedious - almost like watching a rerun of a show I liked the first time, but didn't find it very interesting the second time.

I realize there are many books written about the whole 'upstairs/downstairs' dynamic of England back in the early 1900s. I thought that, perhaps, that was what seemed a little redundant to me. I'm still not quite sure. The core of the story is really great, but it just seemed like it took too long to get there. And I am not, typically, an impatient reader. 

To be completely honest, I even looked up to see when the BBC series was created because I felt someone must have copied someone. Now, I'm not accusing anyone of anything, but I will say that Morton's novel was published in 2006 before Julian Fellowes created the BBC series, which was launched in 2010. Again, I'm not accusing anyone of anything, but I had to research it. There was just too much that was bugging me. Fellowes gives credit for his idea for the series from a book he read To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol Wallace.

All of that aside, I can't help but wonder if I'd never seen the BBC series, would I have liked Morton's book better? Would I have had more patience with it and enjoyed learning about the life of a housemaid/lady's maid in England in the 1900s and the secrets she keeps? I certainly think that's possible, even probable. 

I have read (and reviewed) Morton's The Forgotten Garden and The Secret Keeper. I loved both of those, but The Forgotten Garden still remains my favorite Morton novel to date. One of the great things about this author is that she weaves a fabulous tale and always, amazingly, ties up all the loose ends - some that you didn't even realize were loose until she ties them. I love to read her writing, love to read her descriptions. I never fail to find delicious quotes and make deep connections with her characters.

Kate Morton

I'm looking forward to reading another of her novels The Distant Hours, which my friends tell me is a wonderful read. I already own it, but I'm not going to read it right away. I've decided to sprinkle a few classics in between now and the Christmas holidays, when I have the time, and save The Distant Hours until after the holidays.

Ah, you know how it is: So many book, so little time! ;-)

Happy Reading! 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Welcome, Winter!

I hope I never reach a point in my life where I don't marvel at the  magic of icicles.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Need A Good Cry?

"As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once."

I avoid books that make me cry. I just...don't care to go there. That isn't to say I don't read books that have sad parts, even depressing parts sometimes, but - as a rule - I try to stay away from books I think will just absolutely break my heart. 

A couple of weeks ago, I began seeing quotes pop up on Facebook for a book titled The Fault In Our Stars. I liked the quotes I saw, so I looked the book up. I quickly found that it was a young adult book and the narrator is a sixteen-year-old girl with cancer. I immediately scratched it off my "maybe I want to read it" list. I knew my heart could not take reading that book.

A couple of days ago, however, I just couldn't get some of the quotes I'd seen for the book out of my head. I looked the book up on Amazon and found I could download it on my Kindle Fire for $3.99. At that price, it was hard for me to pass up. I didn't want to buy it, though, if I wasn't going to really read it. I finally decided I would make it my first read over my Thanksgiving break from school, so I would have time to read another book or two after it to ease the heartache I felt sure the book would give me.

I downloaded the book on Friday night, and I finished it this morning. I even 'scheduled' the crying I knew would come. When I was about seventy percent done with the book, I could tell I was going to start getting emotional. I stopped reading last night and decided to finish the book this morning when I would be all alone in my house, and no one would question my tears, or ask me to explain, or wonder what the book touched off in me that would send me in to sobs.

And that is exactly what I did - bawled my eyes out for a bit. (It's OK, though, I was overdue for a good cry.) And if you think I'm giving anything away by saying that, you'd be wrong.  

Am I recommending the book? Oh, absolutely. It may have a couple of sad parts, but it has happy parts, too - along with great sarcasm and intelligence. I can't resist a book with good banter between characters. This one has a good bit of that. I promise you will smile and laugh and smirk more than anything else.

While the book is listed as "young adult," I will let you know it has some mature language in it here and there. It is appropriate (and not gratuitous), in my opinion, given the ages of the main characters and the fact that they are having to deal with some serious life issues. That being said, I wouldn't recommend it to one of my sixth graders, but I think it would be good for older teenagers. Amazon lists it as age appropriate for fourteen and up.

The book isn't long, only 318 pages in the hardcover edition. It packs a good punch, though, and makes you think,...which is exactly what a good book should do. I liked the book, and I am glad I read it. I am especially glad I read it before it becomes a movie, which is currently in the works. 

Nothing ruins a good book like a movie...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Et tu, Brother?!"

OK, so...I'm tired of being stereotyped. It is ridiculous that some people think if you are intelligent and well-read, you must have "no life." While I will concede there may be some people who fit that stereotype, I don't happen to be one of them. I do not live vicariously through fictional characters in novels. Please. Give me a little credit here.

The truth, as I see it, is that reading enriches your life. It causes you to reflect on your own life, your thoughts, and your actions. It makes you understand that the world is a bigger place than just the part you live in. I also think it makes you a more thoughtful person, and you operate on a deeper level of life - not just a shallow existence of one.

I do not stay holed up in my library and live my life through books. I absolutely enjoy the worlds I travel to through reading, but I also enjoy the world outside my own front door. I know how to socially interact with the world and do so quite often. In fact, as a teacher, it is imperative I have good communication skills - not only for my students, but also because I communicate with parents, administrators, and my co-workers. 

Do I sound slightly defensive? Let me tell you why.

My youngest daughter has mentioned, on more than one occasion, that I don't understand what she wants out of life because I "prefer to live in books." She says it like it's a bad thing. Of course, as I said before, I don't live in books. In the same breath she likes to throw that out at me, she'll complain I travel too much, or I'm not around enough. Have I mentioned this is the daughter who joined the Navy and doesn't even live at home anymore?

Now, I don't get too upset about her incorrect analysis. She's nineteen. It's the only excuse she needs. I also understand that she only sees me as "mom" and doesn't understand all the complexities of my life. I know she never will and that's OK, she's not supposed to understand. So, you can see why she gets a "free pass" on her judgment of me. I should also mention her judgement of me doesn't bother me. Never has. 

But, then, something else happened.

A few days ago, I was having a nice conversation with my older brother. We were talking about education and "kids today" and how technology seems to have taken over the world. In an off-handed comment, my brother said he didn't see how someone who "stuck their head in a book all day" was any different than someone who had their head stuck in a computer game all day...


He then proceeded to make some comment about how they're both 'escapism' or 'checking out from the world' and...well, quite frankly, I'm unclear on exactly what he said after that because my ears were still ringing from his incorrect analysis that all book lovers are reclusive hermits who need to escape from the world into a book and that he thinks what book lovers do is the same as kids playing computer games.

"Who are you and WHAT did you do with my brother?"

Like Caesar, I felt betrayed. 

Some things I expect from a nineteen year old daughter, but not my older brother. He knows better. He's smarter than that. I really mulled over his words and wondered why I felt so betrayed at such a general statement coming from someone who has known me, literally, since the day I was born. I knew it had to do with something bigger than just me and my love of books.

I realized it's because I feel I fight the good fight every day of trying to teach children to read and teach them why it's important. I truly believe, in the deepest part of my heart, that reading teaches empathy and makes you a more open-minded, well-rounded individual. I think reading makes you a better person. I'm not just trying to help children become good readers. Through reading, I'm trying to encourage children to become better human beings.

To have my passion reduced to the same category as computer games was...unthinkable. Not to mention, many of the students I have who read on the lowest levels and struggle the most in their reading are usually very proud to label themselves "gamers" and brag about their skills (and the amount of time they spend) at playing games. I often get asked if reading something on their computer games counts as their "reading time" for homework! 

And...before you start thinking my students who are "gamers" may be playing things that actually require some real reading (like mystery games or educational games), let me assure you that we're talking about games from the "Halo" and "Grand Theft Auto" and "Call of Duty" series.

And my brother thinks it's all the same?!


Unlike Caesar, though, I will not give up the fight because my brother also raised his verbal dagger. It just isn't the way I'm wired. Reading is important! It has enriched my life in more ways than I can say. I have learned so much about the world, other people, history, life, and myself through reading.

No, I'm not like Caesar at all. I will fight the good fight and passionately teach the importance of reading until there isn't a breath left in me,...or - as I tell my students - until they pry my cold, dead hands off the school doors...

and, even then, ghost will haunt every student I've ever taught. It will hover over their heads and whisper, "What good things have you read today that added something positive and insightful to your life?" :)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New Arrival!

I'm a bit behind on my blog. I'm more than a bit behind on many other things...

You see, the world stopped and then started again this past Saturday when my first grandchild was born! It's hard to explain what it's like to experience your own child having a child. Even though my oldest daughter is grown, twenty-five years old, and married,...she's still my baby. Always will be.

While I am ecstatic to be a grandparent, I'm even more ecstatic to watch my daughter be a mother. I believe I could watch her with that baby all day. It fascinates me. I've always thought my daughter was beautiful, but she's never been as beautiful as she is when she's loving on that child, talking to him, adoring him, nursing him.

I know, people expect you to go on and on about the grandbaby (and, trust me, I DO!), but I also have great love and admiration for both my daughter and my son-in-law. Making the choice to become a parent and being a parent isn't easy. It is the most challenging and rewarding job there is in this life. The way I see it, to plan for a child and willingly take on that responsibility is something to be admired.

Now, about my smart, talented, beautiful grandson...

The love and joy this new little addition has brought to both sides of the families is beyond words. We've all fallen in love with the new little man in our lives. He is the first grandchild for us and for our son-in-law's parents. There are also great-grandparents on both sides. Did I mention aunts? great-aunts? great-uncles? cousins? Oh, my goodness, so much family! And I haven't even mentioned all the love and support of friends!

Wow, much love for one little guy.

And now, let me introduce you to the newest star in my sky...


Sunday, November 3, 2013


It's 48 degrees in Texas this morning and time for the first fire of the season! I will be the first to admit there is less of a cold season here than where I come from in North Carolina, but one of my stipulations when we built our house was that it have a fireplace - a real fireplace. The minute there is a slight chill in the air, I'm ready for the warmth and the glow of a fire every day until spring!

Now, I could sit here and write all about mankind's fascination with fire since the beginning of time, but...I'd rather just sit here and focus on the flames, watching them dance together and cast shadows on the wall. I'd rather listen to the crackle of the wood as the fire turns it to ashes than listen to my fingers click the keys of this laptop.

So, for today, I'll make my post short and leave you with a wish for a wonderful week. I'm going to sit here for a little while longer and enjoy another delicious, hot cup of coffee, while I warm myself by the fire on a lazy Sunday morning. 



P.S. I'd like to send out a very special thanks to Troy for helping us keep the home fires burning! :)